The Attorney General should curb his impulse to fling around such words as “dangerous” in responding to Justice Frank Seepersad’s ruling in the challenge to the Sedition Act.
No doubt the ruling is problematic for the State whose decision to invoke the Act in certain cases can be described as curious, to put it mildly. However, by attacking the ruling in the manner in which he did, AG Faris Al-Rawi has opened the way for the kind of scurrilous accusations being levelled against Justice Seepersad, especially by political loyalists and political hacks on social media. Of the many ways that the political directorate could assault the judicial system, riling up the population against a judgment is surely one of them. If there is anything dangerous here, it is the AG’s attitude towards the courts which echoed that of the Commissioner of Police after he, too, failed to get his way with the courts.
Whether or not Justice Seepersad’s ruling is eventually upheld in the appeal process, it raises core issues fundamental to the society. While we leave any argument regarding the points of law to the courts, the jurisprudential issues raised in the judgment deserve the serious attention and consideration of the wider society.
It is of concern to the judge that an independent and fully sovereign republic should accept and embrace laws enacted by a colonial- era legislature which had used its minority power to deny the basic right of freedom of expression to the majority population. This point strikes at the heart of the transition from the colonial era into the age of independence and raises seminal questions about the consummation of our independence through laws which uphold the values of the minority colonial authorities at the expense of the rights of the majority as declared by the Constitution.
Even if the State’s appeal succeeds, this remains a burning issue to be addressed and, we add, advocated.
The AG’s loose talk about 1990 and his reading out of the quite offensive comments by the late Sat Maharaj in defending Sections 3 and 4 of the Sedition Act can only be described as a weak attempt to manipulate public opinion. The question for all of us is whether Sections 3 and 4 have any place at all in a democratic society where individual rights must be balanced against the national interest in a very defined and specific manner.
Even the most cursory glance at Sections 3 and 4 should be enough to convince the average person of the weakness and danger of this anachronistic piece of legislation. It is loose enough to facilitate both the arbitrary exercise of power as well as the non-exercise of power. After 57 years of independence, we have experienced enough examples of the abuse of State power, as well as the risks to national security, to recognise the need to hammer out legislation that balances the rights of the individual against the rights of all as enshrined in the Constitution.
Whatever its fate in the courts of law, Justice Seepersad’s ruling has pushed this all-important issue to the pinnacle of the national agenda.